|9/15/2011 10:00:00 AM|
For 95-year-old drummer, beat goes on
While most of his eight-year-old peers used their odd-job earnings to see movies in the 1920s, Fred Randall chose to attend vaudeville variety acts - mostly to stare, wide-eyed, at the drummers.
The boy graduated from shoveling sidewalks and mowing lawns for nickels to selling newspapers for $1. He started taking weekly drum lessons, marching in his first parade at age nine and playing in a high school orchestra by 10.
Today, at a self-described "95-and-a-half" years old, Mr. Randall still hasn't shaken his fascination with percussion. He rehearses with a 15-piece dance band and a 40-piece concert orchestra in Schenectady, performing several times a year. He only stopped playing in parades after surviving a stroke in 2003.
"Every once in a while, I get a paid gig," he told The Evangelist.
He's played in symphony and concert orchestras, German and Italian bands and more: "You name it, I've played it."
Mr. Randall is the oldest member of the dance band, made up of men over age 60.
"I promised them a party when I'm 100," he said, laughing.
Drumming, he said, keeps him active; he also uses a stationary bicycle daily.
A parishioner of St. John the Evangelist Church in Schenectady, Mr. Randall recently led his 16th Flag Day ceremony at Schaffer Heights senior apartment homes in Schenectady, where he's lived for the same number of years. A life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, his National Guard career has stuck with him.
"I go out and salute my flag every morning," he said, pointing to his terrace.
Mr. Randall was born in Schenectady on New Year's Day, 1916. His father lost his job four years later, forcing the family to move into a house without electricity or running water. Mr. Randall's father died on the eve of the Great Depression, making the seven-year-old's contributions to the family finances necessary.
At 12, Mr. Randall joined a junior brigade of the National Guard, which he compares to the Boy Scouts. He camped out of an Army truck in the Adirondack Mountains, learning to sleep in the snow, read a compass and cook in the woods.
After high school, he joined the National Guard, got married and finished a General Electric Co. toolmaker apprenticeship. He was drafted in 1944 as a sergeant in World War II and stationed in Germany.
In his travels, Mr. Randall once accompanied a chaplain to visit Theresa Neumann, a well-known German Catholic mystic and stigmatic. For decades, she allegedly consumed no food or water other than the Eucharist.
To Mr. Randall, seeing her was "breathtaking. It has stayed with me. I have sat here and talked for hours about it."
Back home in 1946, Mr. Randall worked as the New York State military photographer for 28 years. Photography is his next favorite hobby after drumming; he built a darkroom in his old basement and once processed a glass negative of his father.
Mr. Randall has survived his wife, Marion, and two children, but hasn't lost his positive outlook - perhaps thanks to his Catholic faith.
"It's quiet like a man's faith is quiet," said Rev. David Lupo, SSCC. After Father Lupo's parents died, Mr. Randall "adopted" the priest, whose father he'd worked with at GE.
Father Lupo remarked that Mr. Randall "has a very deep, abiding love of God, despite all of the tragedy in his life. I think he knows that he's been richly blessed in his life."
The priest recounted several of those adventures: Mr. Randall met singer and dancer Sammy Davis Jr. in his prime and listened to Kate Smith sing "God Bless America" before it became her signature song.
Mr. Randall, for his part, recalled a lifetime of volunteerism with his wife. The couple spent Sunday afternoons visiting shut-ins after Mass; he volunteered at a tool shop at Ellis Hospital and sold medical alert devices for 10 years.
"No moss grows under his feet," Father Lupo declared. "He's as outgoing as a 95-year-old can be. He just can't sit still."
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